I had a few pleasant hours last night during which I relished the Wings' victory over the Hawks, and my ability to dress completely head-to-toe in Wings gear when I visit their fine city next month. However, when I woke up this morning, it was right back into my traditional playoff cycle of high blood pressure, ulcers, and nervous ticks.
I wish I could say that I took as much satisfaction from beating the Hawks as I did from beating the Ducks, but honestly, the second round felt better. As much as I'm looking forward to heading to Chicago draped in my multitude of Red Wings shirts (I may even layer them, depending on the outcome of this most important series), I don't really feel that great sense of accomplishment that I did after the Wings sent the Ducks packing. The Hawks put up more of a fight than I expected, but they never made me angry. They never made me hate them. They never made me want the Wings to destroy them just so I could watch them cry. It was an easy, low-key lull leading up to the Big Show that starts on Saturday. There's something about even-numbered series that gives me night terrors. Maybe that's why I've always preferred odd numbers.
All of that temporarily dormant vitriol is starting to boil up to the surface now that another showdown with Sidney Crosby is imminent. If the thought of having to look at Gary Bettman's Little Buddy's face for hours on end while the media drools all over him didn't start the hate vibes flowing, check this post out from The Pens Blog. Classy, folks, classy. There are few things I would love more in this world than to see Vladdie completely annihilate Crosby as he skates through center ice. Alas, due to cruel twists of fate, that will never happen. Maybe we'll have to settle for a Kronner special. *fingers crossed* As a big believer in the Hockey Gods, I can only hope for some form of karmic retribution for that low-down, tasteless attack on a former hockey player whose life was almost taken in a needless car accident.
The one thing that's keeping me from hyperventilating right now is the box scores I pulled up from last year's Finals (yes, in a radical change of pace, I decided to actually do some research instead of making things up in my head.). The Penguins scored ten goals in that series. Guess how many a certain pricey trade-deadline acquisition of theirs was involved in? Seven. That's right. Seven out of ten. It was that same man who sent the puck trickling through Ozzie's crease in the waning moments of Game 6. That man? Marian Hossa. His current team? The Detroit Red Wings.
This is big-time moment of truth for Hossa. He's been offensively dormant for most of the playoffs, except for Game 4s (If he's so enraptured with the number 4, why doesn't he just throw it on the back of his jersey? Seriously.) , but if he's ever going to make a statement, now's the time. Back in the summer, he said, "When I compared the two teams, I felt like I would have a little better of a chance to win the Cup in Detroit." Well, sunshine, now's your chance. Go out and prove yourself right. And if that path to prophetic fulfillment just happens to leave tread marks over Sidney Crosby's greasy little face? So much the better. The bottom line is that without Hossa's production in the Finals last year, the series wouldn't even have been close. And as far as I can tell, the Penguins haven't added a whole lot of scoring talent to replace him.
Instead, they're relying on Crosby and Malkin to shoulder the load offensively. I'd be an idiot if I said that the roll the two of them are on didn't scare me, but beyond their two stars, I just don't see a whole lot of secondary scoring. Even if the Wings have to "cancel out" their top two lines defending Crosby and Malkin, I like their odds in a battle of third and fourth lines. I've said it ten million times over the course of my fandom, but the Wings bottom lines just can't be matched by anyone else in the league. Also, I keep mentally replaying this (well the part after the hit. How is it that that epic PK hasn't made its way onto youtube?) in my head in order to calm my nerves.
A lot will depend on Zetterberg's ability to own Crosby again. Last year in the finals, Sid the Kid spent most of the time whining while Z had his way with him en route to hoisting both the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy. If he can work his magic again this time around, I like the Wings' chances.
I'm more than slightly concerned about the scheduling of the Finals and the whole 3 games in 4 days thing (and also the fact that I'm going to be missing part or all of each of said three games). I'm not willing to cry conspiracy about it so much as complete and utter incompetence. No other professional sporting league would allow TV networks to boss it around when scheduling its championship series. That being said, the quick turnaround and condensed scheduling would seem to favor the Pens in light of the Wings' injury situation. (I still maintain that this rash of injuries is the Hockey Gods' retribution for Drew Sharp's obnoxious headline after Game 2.) I was an adamant opponent of the proposed June 5th start date from the first moment I heard about it, but now it's sounding better and better. This is probably much better for the sport, but I can honestly say that at this point, I don't care what's good for the NHL. I'm not in this to watch quality back-and-forth hockey, with tight games and beautiful displays of skill (unless my boys are the ones doing the dangling and sniping). I can't handle that kind of stress. As much as I'm a fan of the game (read: not the NHL), I'm a fan of the Wings first and foremost. And nothing Gary Bettman can do will ever convince me that he's not an incompetent fool who is bent on destroying hockey.
At this point in the season, though, I'm not entirely sure that Bettman is in control of his own actions. I'm not convinced that he's able to form complete sentences now that his Little Buddy is in the Finals again. He thought his two-week long ecstasy of a conference semi-finals series was incredible, but now that his Buddy is only four wins away from the Cup, he has to be out of his mind.
Everybody seems to be counting the Wings out. I don't know if this is because from watching NHL marketing campaigns, you would never know that the defending Stanley Cup Champions even existed. It's also possible that the commentators have been brainwashed by Bettman's obsessive need to shove Crosby's face down all of our throats. Whatever the reason, it's pretty much universally agreed that the ice is tilted in Pittsburgh's favor this time around. The only people who believe Detroit has a chance are wearing the Winged Wheel--on the ice or in the stands. It's OK. We're used to this. Every year, series after series, people doubt the Wings talent and drive. People predicted that Columbus would overwhelm the sleepy Wings with their playoff virgin excitement. They said that Anaheim would grind the soft Wings down with their physical play. They said that Chicago would outgun the slow Wings with their youthful exuberance. But guess what? The Wings answered the call every time. What's really remarkable is how different each series has been so far. That speaks almost as much to the Wings' resilience as overcoming all of the injuries toward the end of the third round. To this point, they've shown that they can play any style of hockey that's needed. And that only bodes well for them in the Finals.
This entry sounds much more positive than I intended to make it. The truth is I'm terrified. Losing this round would be a slap to the face so bad that my future children would be born with handprints on their cheeks. Sidney Crosby is a very good player, and I fully expect him to get his Bettman-annointed hands on the Cup some day. But to have his triumph come at the expense of my boys is just too much for me to handle.